March 30, 2022
This week we are painting trees from a distance, perhaps a view from a window or from the ridge of a hill looking down on a wooded valley. Instead of being in a wood we are out in the open, looking down or up, to a wooded area or group of trees. The sides of the hills in the photo above are well grazed by sheep and the group of tall ash trees takes centre stage.
The challenge this week is to make a painting of trees in the landscape. Although the word is land-scape I prefer to split it rather differently to labour an important point. I like to think of the vegetation including trees becoming the cape or mantle clothing the lands, hence it is a good idea to establish the topography of the land before clothing it with forests or groups of trees.
It is also essential to make a note of the light conditions. In the example above light is falling very strongly from the left lighting up the slope on the right. The steep sided slopes would look entirely different if the light were from a different direction or on a dull day when the light is more diffuse. The most challenging weather, especially when painting outside, is a bright breezy day when clouds are scudding across the sky casting fast moving shadows as they pass.
Below are a few more of Jo’s photos giving examples of the sort of reference you may like to work from.
The images above should provide ideas for working from your own reference. Best would be from a place you have walked in or visited.
March 23, 2022
This week’s challenge is to paint a picture of a tree or trees at the water’s edge or even standing in water. Look for reflections and also how the tree is physically related to the land and the water. Are it’s roots exposed at the shoreline? And is it by a stream, a lake or on the coast?
The ferocity of the current caused by a flash flood may uproot and drag trees downstream, especially in a narrow gorge. Branches or whole trees may remain lodged on the banks. The picture below is of Catrigg Force in North Yorkshire where a tree has been tossed across the stream below the fall. The gorge itself is full of tall beech trees reaching for the light above.
The drawing below shows the ravages of winter storms on the Suffolk coast. Tree trunks roll around on the beach at Covehythe where whole roads lined with trees have fallen into the sea. The trunks are often sawn off as here and only the lower part and roots remain. Seeing these on a misty February morning was an eerie experience.
Looking North there were whole trees strewn on the shingles below the cliff and more trees can be seen clinging on before meeting the same watery fate.
I would like to see your paintings the reflect the mood of the place which will be related to the weather and time of day as well as to the landscape. This may be much more successful if it is a place you know well or have at least visited. A lakeside tree in calm weather may suggest peace, or if their is a breeze and a dancing in the trees perhaps a playful atmosphere. However, if the sky is dark and storms are raging you may be depicting a more dramatic scene.
If you are feeling particularly adventurous don’t be afraid to use your imagination. If you want to depict a storm with a flash flood and branches flying I suspect there will be few references in your photo collection or sketchbook, but you may have recorded the aftermath, so you could think about how it would have been during the storm.
Decide first on your subject and think about the aspect you wish to convey, then try out some rough sketches from your reference pictures before embarking on the final composition.
March 16, 2022
This week’s challenge is to paint or draw trees in a woodland setting. The woodland floor may be a significant part of the painting as in the pastel painting of Judy Woods above. This is a mainly beech wood on a slope, with many ancient trees with haunting shapes and and exposed roots. It seems to breathe mystery.
Another mysterious wood with an entirely different character is Wistman’s Wood on Dartmoor. Here stunted oaks encrusted with moss and ferns emerge from boulders of granite.
Over the last three weeks we have been exploring the shape and structures associated with a variety of trees. In a woodland there will be other considerations as the background may be full of the myriad twigs and small branches of more distant trees. There may be an under-layer of shrubby plants and the floor of the wood is often far from featureless, so part of this week’s challenge will be finding a way to describe the backdrop for the main trees in the composition.
Your work may have a single tree or a group of trees as it’s main focus or as in the two examples below be a tapestry of the tree shapes and colours.
Perhaps start by coming to grips with the shapes of your chosen woodland, by doing some small preliminary sketches. Think about the composition possibilities at the same time, then plan out your final composition. Think about which medium would suit your purpose and how you are going to use the medium. Also look at the tonal range; is it generally light and airy or dark and mysterious. Then think about the colour. Ask questions; which colours predominate and are there any small areas of colour that add to the composition by their purity, or by their contrast in tone and hue to their surroundings. In the photo of Judy Woods the little speck of a red anorak draws our attention and at the same time gives a sense of scale!
March 9, 2022
Storms, Lopping and other Struggles for Survival
Very few trees reach their perfect natural form. They are either hemmed in by others, damaged by storms and animals and of course, lopped, pruned, and coppiced by people.
Project : Draw a tree that has been caused to struggle for survival by; a challenging environment, lopping, a harsh prevailing wind, lightning damage, being uprooted etc.
Trees stuck by lightning can literally be torn apart but wind damage can be just as severe and result in the tree being uprooted and the tangle of roots made visible. Like branches these root tangles overlap and thread through each other even more so than branches above ground.If a tree near you has come down do get out with your sketchbook and a camera. Make sketches and/or photograph from several viewpoints before homing in on a composition for your final drawing.
The drawing may be a whole or part of a tree but should tell something of its history; probably a whole tree where it has grown with a distinct list to one side because of a prevailing high wind, but in the case of a fallen tree, perhaps just the exposed roots. Either way try to make an interesting composition.
Other suitable subjects would be stunted trees growing out of stoney ground, or choked by Ivy.
March 3, 2022
This week we’ll get close up and look at more of the textures and structural details of trees. So we’ll look at their natural marks, bark patterns and branches, and also at healed wounds.
If you are fortunate enough to have a garden with trees you may like to embark on a project discovering its marks and structures. Perhaps start with the trunk and it’s bark and any scars from lopping or pruning, and observe how the patterns of bark change where a branch develops.
See how many small branches emanate from the stubs left behind when a branch is cut off. Sometimes this leads to huge thickenings as in the drawing of the Spanish Chestnut trunk above.
If you don’t have a garden try finding a tree nearby or work from photographic reference.
Project : Make visual notes of at least two of the following in your sketchbook and then make a considered drawing of a part of the tree that sustains your interest. It’s not a comprehensive list so feel free to add your own ideas.
1.Branches: observe whether these follow any sort of pattern, or in the case of palm or banana trees how do the leaves emerge and what happens to the dead leaf bases?
2.Bark patterns and marks as they appear on the main trunk and branches; also some trees shed bark pieces, some of the pines do and pieces can be gathered and drawn indoors. More detailed studies of these can appear quite abstract.
3.At branch points sketch how the pattern of the bark changes where new growth emerges
4.Scars and new growth
5.Exposed roots at the base of the trunk
6.Make notes of other life like lichens and moss that cover the bark in places introducing different textures or patterns.
You will have gained a huge amount of information about the tree in this drawing exercise and have found mark making equivalents for some of the patterns and textures observed on the way. Finally make a drawing of a tree, choosing not to draw the whole tree this time, but a part you find particularly interesting.
Heather has drawn from the same reference in three different media!